Clara stood at the end of the driveway up to the Boy’s School dormitory. She chatted casually with the other mothers who waited with her. It was a fresh spring day, and she felt happily at ease. She looked forward with pleasure at the thought that today, she and her two girls, were to go to Mrs. Hughes’ home for tea. She had invested the preceding week in coaching the girls in tea-time proper etiquette. They were ready.
Presently, the waiting parents heard the distinct sound of children’s chatter, with their high-pitched voices blending peacefully with the normal urban backdrop. Clara smiled for she enjoyed this noise, which always preceded the emergence of her children. When they appeared, walking calmly in a neat two by two crocodile, she was happy to see that her oldest seven-year-old daughter, and her best friend led the group. The others, in descending ages, followed behind; their teacher, Miss Derry came last. She leased one room of the boy’s dormitory to house her school. In its confines, she miraculously managed to take fourteen children of varying ages and turn each out at age eight with a sound knowledge of reading, writing, and fundamental arithmatics, including multiple tables up to twelve, all based on a foundation of Christianity, world history and geography.
When they arrived at the bottom of the drive Miss Derry gave a signal, and the children dispersed to their parents in an orderly manner. Clara took her two’s hands and began to walk toward the Cathedral and River Banks. As this was in the opposite direction from home Mary, her eldest, pulled at her hand.
“Mama where are we going?”
“You remember, dear,” Her mother stopped, and turned to look at her daughter in the face “I told you at lunchtime. We are having a special treat. We are going to have tea with Mrs. Hughes.”
“But I’m hungry”
“Mrs. Hughes will have food for you.”
“Yes, but” Mary looked at her younger sister for moral support, “but Mrs. Hughes’ food is yucky!”
“You are going to be good girls. I know that you don’t like her dry sandwiches and fluffy store-bought whipped cream cakes, but you have to pretend. We talked about this at lunch-time. I want you to think of it as a game. Remember that you will be able to eat all your home-cooked, tea-time favorites when we get home”
“Yes, you are to take one sandwich and, then if you wish, you can say that you aren’t very hungry when she offers the cakes.”
“But Mama,” her younger daughter interrupted, “we’re really hungry.”
“Don’t worry. Be good, polite little ladies, and earn a reward. Forget the store-bought whipped cream cakes, when we get home we will have another tea with of all your home cooked tea-time favorites.”
Clara took her girl’s hands and walked briskly to the end of the road where they paused at a low wall overlooking the wooded ravine of the River Weir, locally referred to as The River Banks. They turned left down South Street with its magnificent views across the river to the west end of Durham cathedral. Its grey stones were high lit with a warm pink glow. Half-way down the street they stopped at the Hughes residence with its huge bay window facing across the narrow street. It commanded a view of the West End Galilee Chapel flanked by the west end towers with the central tower further behind completing the classic image of this magnificent structure.
Mrs. Hughes ushered them inside to her tea-table which was tastefully set in front of the bay-window commanding the cathedral view. Clara glowed with pride as she watched her daughters daintily handle their bone china teacups with their wood violet decoration. She watched each of them take, and slowly eat, a sandwich gently pushing it a round on their violet-decorated tea plates. Things were going well.
Mrs. Hughes took the cake plate off its pedestal and offered it to Mary. Clara watched Mary’s face and gave an inner groan when she saw that Mary was about to speak. She caught Mary’s eye and gave an almost imperceptible shake of her head.
Mary responded, in a confident voice, “Don’t worry Mama. I was only going to say a polite ‘no thank you,’ to the store bought, whipped-cream cakes.”
Clara smiled and was about to turn away when Mary took a breath and forged on:
“Anyway, I know that you promised that when we get home we will have a real tea with of all our home-cooked tea-time favorites.”
The innocence and honesty of children beautifully captured in your writing, Jane. I remember those moments. Hugs to you both. ❤ Xx
Thank you, Jane. You are right to assume that this is based on an actual event. I had to embellish the surroundings.because, although I was the child I only remember the final moment. It was, I may add, an event w hich made its way into my mother’s, oft repeated repertoire of stories.
Oh no, looking back on bringing up children how many times has that scene been duplicated over countless years. 🙂 As usual your descriptions are so minute we feel we walked there with them and felt the mother’s embarrassment.
Yes, I agree Ian. It is comforting to think that the child’s innocence can often be the saving aspect of these moments of revelation.